Travelling Through Africa: An Inspiring Journey

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Travelling Through Africa: An Inspiring Journey

Dayana Dreke and Tresor Ilunga Mukuna, along with their daughter Benisha, will embark on an empowering year-long adventure through the world’s second largest continent to promote the African philosophy of Ubuntu

Meet NGO programme manager Dayana Dreke, independent filmmaker Tresor Ilunga Mukuna and their two-year-old daughter Benisha. For the next year, this multi-cultural Cape Town family will be travelling across the beautiful and culturally diverse African continent with the aim to promote the African philosophy of Ubuntu through storytelling.

Dayana and Tresor have titled their African journey (and the zebra motorhome they will be travelling in) “Ubuntu Makasi”, which translate to strength through human connections. Ubuntu is the Southern African philosophy of humanity and is linked to the Bantu word ubuntu. Ubuntu is also often connected with the Zulu phrase “umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu”, which means “a person is a person through other people” or “I am because of you”. Makasi is a word taken from the Lingala language meaning power, strength and energy. Lingala is a Bantu language mostly spoken throughout the north western part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as in large parts of the Republic of the Congo.

On their trip Dayana and Tresor will capture and record motivating and positive African stories, from grassroots level. These are the stories of social entrepreneurs, local activists, artists and successful NGOs that work tirelessly for the betterment of the continent and all who inhabit it. Through these encounters the couple wish to challenge the many negative stereotypes of Africa being poor, violent and corrupt that is often rife in the mainstream media.

As a filmmaker Tresor is wildly passionate about visual storytelling, and as such wants to document their entire African trip, as well as the inspirational stories that he and Dayana will seek out, through film. While Tresor films, Dayana, who has been active in the field of child and youth empowerment especially in Cape Town, will document their Ubuntu journey through photography.

We chatted to Dayana and Tresor about their trip, their unique zebra camper and the pieces of our pretty city they wish to share with the rest of the continent.

MAY 2016: Part 2

It has been approximately five months since we last spoke, please bring us up to speed on where you are in your trip?
[Dayana]: We are currently in beautiful Tanzania. We have travelled for the last three to four months through Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania.

How is your zebra camper Ubuntu Makasi holding up?
[D]: We are very proud of our 26-year-old 4x4 Fiat Ducato camper, Ubuntu Makasi that has driven us (after two major engine breakdowns in South Africa) safely through and over challenging gravel roads in the desert, dry sand tracks along the coast, flooded muddy roads in southern Africa, scary potholes, narrow goat tracks through remote villages, up and down steep mountains and through off-road forest tracks to reach various campsites.

We had a major issue though when a petrol station attendant, in a village after crossing the border to Tanzania, filled up our camper with petrol instead of diesel - which was four weeks ago. We only realised it 130-km further in the city of Mbeya. There we arranged to exchange and clean-up the camper with local mechanics (who were quite impressed that our camper had not given up after a few kilometers as a petrol-driven car would not even be able to start with diesel in it). What’s more, with the help of a local law student we were even able to be reimbursed in diesel by the responsible company!

We then made the 350-km trip to the mountainous former German mission town Iringa, but then had a major breakdown 25-km further near Ilula the following day. (A valve had collapsed into the piston after its lengthy exposure to petrol and damaged one piston totally, so that the engine just stopped within a second). Luckily, we had many friendly helpers and were taken to the Ilula Catholic Mission, where we could safely leave our beloved Ubuntu motorhome while heading via bus to Dar es Salaam to find the necessary spare parts. My hubby Tresor spent several days on Dar's huge overcrowded markets (amongst his three African languages, he luckily also speaks Swahili) and found a great engineer who reconstructed the cylinderhead. Back in Ilula, the amazing local mechanics miraculously managed to put the heart of Ubuntu back together within three days in our 'outdoor workshop' in front of a pastor's house. We have had several test drives over the past weekend and plan to finally hit the road again soon.

Have you been able to achieve your original goals thus far?
[D]: Our aim was to realise our dream of traveling through Africa as a family and collect inspiring stories along the way to promote Ubuntu and Africa's many hidden potentials. We definitely have had an amazing family adventure so far, documenting our highlights and overcoming various challenges as well as meeting incredible people – social entrepreneurs, artists, activists, hard-working fishermen and nurses, all whose stories we have captured.

Are your original aims changing as your trip moves forward?
[D]: Due to our various engine issues, the reality of on-going travel logistics – especially with a toddler on board – adapting and shortening our route, the rain season, sicknesses and red tape, we could not meet and document all our connections of inspiring artists, activists, social entrepreneurs and NGO projects that we were so excited  to feature in our documentary. Therefore our focus has shifted slightly to our journey as a family with all its challenges, learning curves and personal growth. We’ve decided to document the every day heroes like the local fishermen, bicycle taxi drivers, security men and women, mechanics, nurses, and students  that we have encountered en route.

What have been some of your biggest highlights?
[D]: Besides the more obvious travel highlights such as visiting the breathtaking Bazaruto Archipelago in Mozambique, seeing magical Lake Malawi - which we travelled from south to north and would love to return to one day, and realising my dream of visiting Zanzibar for my birthday weekend.  I feel especially grateful for being hosted so warmly by friends in Maputo, Blantyre, Lilongwe and Dar es Salaam. The many welcoming daily encounters with locals, especially in Malawi, where even the police road blocks are enjoyable through curious and fun conversations are a definite highlight as well.

[Tresor]: In addition to that, I have also absolutely loved meeting so many inspiring individuals and am excited about documenting their stories and allowing others to get a glimpse into their world and daily lives through our final film.

Similarly, what have been some of your biggest challenges?
[D]: Definitely the nerve-wrecking and savings-cutting engine breakdowns, with one even leading to our visas expiring and us all becoming “undesired persons“ in South Africa – our home for the last eight to 10 years. Fortunately, our appeal has been successful and the status was just recently waived. Organising my Congo family visa in Dar es Salam, which was very bureaucratic, expensive and time-consuming (although married to a Congolese) as well as crossing borders still makes me nervous as one feels so vulnerable to the arbitrariness of border authority even though one has all the necessary documents. While in Tanzania, it is staying safe on the roads as trucks and busses driving here are even more reckless and irresponsible than what we have experienced in previous African countries.

[T]: The engine breakdowns, especially the last one in Tanzania caused by petrol being put into the motorhome instead of diesel – this negligence cost me a lot of energy on all levels due to running around for days on Dar’s crazy markets, enduring tough price negotiations with the sellers, engineers, mechanics and taxi drivers and ensuring the mechanics do a proper job as fixing an engine is such a complex process. And trust me, after three engine breakdowns I have learned a lot and know my bit!

Is Benisha enjoying her once-in-a-lifetime trip? How has it been traveling with a toddler?
[D]: Absolutely! She loves our zebra-camper like crazy and enjoys interacting with the local kids wherever we stop. She also fell in love with the warm water of the Indian Ocean and Lake Malawi, enjoys the local exotic fruits and is excited to see and learn more about African animals.

Traveling with our toddler has been an amazing opportunity for us. To see her grow and develop , many toddlers her age would have spent most of their time at a creche or in kindergarten. It obviously also has its challenges, as at her age it's all about testing limits and throwing tantrums, and our Africa journey is already taking us out of our comfort zone, so that some moments are just quite overwhelming for everyone, but through all of these experiences such strong family bonds are being formed.

[T]: It´s such a big adventure for her. She gets so much attention from locals, especially the kids, which is sometimes also overwhelming for her, and our Ubuntu Makasi is then her comforting safe  place.

What have you missed most about Cape Town while on your African journey and was it what you originally thought you would miss?
[D]: Besides spending quality time with family and friends, I definitely miss the diversity of food and beverages available (including a great braai and nice beach picnic), as we are quite limited on the road, especially during the rain season. I also miss sleeping without a mosquito net and buzzing mozzies around it at night. Hmm, we actually were so excited about our Africa trip, that we didn't even think of what we might miss.

[T]: The sense of familiarity, being in control. This quote describes it quite well: “Traveling is brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly out of balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it” (Cesare Pavese). Well, and to be honest, before starting our adventure, we would not even know what to really expect and what we could miss.

For how much longer do you plan to still be on the road?
[D]: We have untill September 2016 latest (that is when our Carnet de Passage expires), but we will try to finish earlier as our savings are soon coming to an end anyway, especially after the unexpected recent engine damage in Tanzania. We also still want to have some time to prepare our zebra camper for its new purpose. And after our intensive third engine repair, we have obviously had to cut down our trip again and basically try to now get 'only' straight to family and friends in DR Congo via Zambia and then back to South Africa (via Zambia and Zimbabwe) – which is still another 5000-km. We are now halfway through our African trip adventure.

Do you still have plans to return to the Mother City?
[D]: Yes, of course! This is where our African Journey started and it is also where we want to finish our adventurous trip to see family and friends again. Our plan is to transform our zebra camper Ubuntu Makasi into a cosy space to rent out via Air B&B and leave it at a nice spot in Cape Town.


JANUARY 2016: Part 1

You are about to travel through Africa for one whole year. Please tell us a little more about your trip?
[D]: Originally, we planned to travel as a family in our own 4x4 motorhome from my hometown Berlin, Germany, all the way back to Cape Town. We had planned to travel via southern Europe, north and west Africa, and then on to visit my husband's family in the Democratic Republic of the Congo before heading further south through east and southern Africa. The route was based on our personal connections to friends, their contacts and various organisations. However, because of visa  and safety issues in north and west Africa due to terrorism – but also lots of positive reasons – we decided to start our trip the other way around, officially starting in Cape Town, which has been our home for the last decade. After various challenges and delays, we have now cut out west and north Africa completely and instead plan to do a round trip through southern and east Africa for the remaining eight to nine months of the trip.

What motivated you to realise this long-time dream?
[D]: Well, we had been planning this trip for the past five years and it was a good time to take a one-year break after my husband finished his studies and my work contract came to an end. Also, our daughter Benisha is now two years old, and it is going to be great to be able to spend so much quality time with her before she’s older and in school.

What do you want to achieve during your trip?
[D]: As we are documenting our adventurous family journey through film, photography and social media, our mission is to challenge negative Africa stereotypes in mainstream media and promote the African philosophy of Ubuntu, meaning humanity/human kindness. We wish to do this by telling powerful success stories of inspiring local artists, social entrepreneurs, and community activists that we meet along the way. In our documentary we aim to educate, shift mindsets and promote Ubuntu as interconnected thinking on a global level. We wish to achieve this through igniting dialogues amongst our audiences – hopefully also inspiring much needed action – and creating more hope for Africa as a promising continent with much hidden potentials. 

Tell us about your zebra camper? Is there a story behind it?
[D]: We were looking for graffiti artists in Berlin who could put the name for the motorhome and theme of our trip "Ubuntu Makasi" on the camper. A friend connected us to two cool friends of his who shared the crazy idea of transforming our whole camper into a wild African animal for our journey. And they did a great job! We now have our unique zebra camper, which our little daughter loves!


You have lived in Cape Town for about a decade, what have loved most about our dynamic city?
[D]: We love being so close to nature with Cape Town's beaches and mountains, where after a stressful day one can unwind with a sunset beach walk or a hike up our favourite mountain, Lion’s Head. We also enjoy the many interesting cultural events, from music concerts at Kirstenbosch to poetry evenings, as well as the development of innovative spaces for social dialogues and hubs for social entrepreneurs.

What piece of Cape Town do you wish to take with you on your travels and share with the rest of Africa?
[D]: Hmm, difficult to decide... One thing I would like to see more of in Africa would be sustainable community tourism projects initiated and led by locals as I have seen a few here, as well as inspiring environmental awareness projects.

[T]: I appreciate the public transport infrastructure here, like the MyCiTi bus system. I would like to see it in many other African cities to connect people with opportunities in an easier way.

Do you have any favourite Capetonians that have inspired you and your family? Especially with reference to your trip?
[D]: Interesting question! Through my work with various NGOs, networks and Cape Town's diverse communities, I feel fortunate to have met lots of inspiring individuals that I could learn a lot from. With regards to our trip, I had a chance to meet quite a few travel journalists during my time as a website assistant at Getaway Magazine in 2009, like well-known editors Don Pinnock and Justin Fox. During that time I also read a lot about the South African explorer and humanitarian Kingsley Holgate, described by Getaway as the "most travelled man in Africa", and his incredible adventure expeditions.

[T]: For me, it's my former mentor and now good friend Marius van Straaten from Visual Impact. He’s a great filmmaker who is passionate about supporting young filmmakers like me, generously sharing his knowledge and skills, and he’s outspoken against racism and injustice. As an experienced 4x4 traveller in Southern Africa he shared lots of helpful tips and tricks for our trip with us.

What is your most treasured Mother City memory that will remain with you throughout your travels?
[D]: Having lived here for about 10 years, there are just so many amazing memories from my time as a student at UWC and then working at various NGOs in Cape Town's diverse communities. Parallel to this is starting a family with Tresor and being a proud mommy to Benisha now. But one of the many treasures is the warm smiles and friendliness when walking through Cape Town's streets and the inspiring encounters and learning experiences with locals when I was doing child empowerment and peace work in Langa, Gugulethu and Mitchells Plain.

[T]: For me it's definitely meeting Dayana here in Cape Town and having our beautiful daughter Benisha!

What will you miss most about Cape Town on your trip?
[D]: Definitely our get-togethers with family and friends for braais, hikes and beach fun, the cultural diversity and never-ending activity opportunities that the Mother City offers. I will also miss the beautiful surroundings with the mountains, rivers and beaches.

[T]: Obviously, our family and friends in Cape Town... and the delicious nachos from Mojito Cafe on Long Street (laughs).

Tell us a bit about your fundraising campaign and a little more about the upcoming documentary? Where and how can people get involved?
[D]: Yes, we are documenting our whole journey with all its ups and downs, and promoting Ubuntu and positive African stories with the final documentary film. We’ve had a number of challenges and delays at the start of our trip, but we’ve already documented the stories of local artists and social entrepreneurs, and we’ve already experienced humbling Ubuntu moments, which can be seen in our short new fundraiser video. Through our new Gofundme campaign our aim is to get enough donations to help cover at least some of the unexpected expenses resulting from breakdowns with our motorhome. Watch our short clip [see below] to get a visual idea about our adventurous trip so far and how best you can support us.

Do you plan to return to the Mother City?
[D]: Yes. We changed our Africa trip to a round trip ending in Cape Town in September 2016 to see family and friends before moving to Berlin, Germany where we will live for the next two to three years. In Germany we plan to work on our Africa trip documentary and book. During these years we will definitely be back [in Cape Town] for short visits.

You can follow Dayana and Tresor’s African adventure via their travel blog: as well as on Instagram and Twitter: @UbuntuMakasi


Check out Tresor Ilunga Mukuna’s first documentary: Cape Town – Mother City? It was awarded Honourable Mention for ‘Making a Difference’ at the Community Film festival 2011 in Toronto, Canada.


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